Chapter 4.  Tabasco and Campeche

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2002 All rights reserved.


Day 17 - Tuesday, January 29 - Villahermosa, Tabasco (Milepost 1025; today 190)

(Shari) Stress makes diamonds so they tell me. Larry and Marlene ought to be 10 carats by now. No sooner do we get out of the park, but Helen and Bob develop some noise in their Class-C motor home and need to stop. They had it looked at yesterday by a mechanico and he could find nothing wrong with the brakes. With no place to park the caravan, we move on to mile 12.7 and await the two rigs left behind. After 30-45 minutes, still no news, we continue slowly towards our destination. We take a longer lunch break hoping that our tailgunner and today's problem child will catch up. Arriving in Villahermosa at 4 PM there still is no word from them. Bert and I leave the campground to reconnoiter tomorrow's route and by the time we return, we see the two missing vehicles safely parked in the lot at the fairgrounds. My, how happy we are to see them! The mechanic fixed their problem and by noon they were on their way making time to catch up to us. Now that everyone is safe and sound, I can sit on my lawn chair sipping wine and enjoy the cool breeze as the sun begins to set. Today's drive was tedious but typically Mexican, trash spoiling beautiful vistas wherever you look, men leading donkeys laden with sticks, women carrying babies and children waving at us as we pass. Topes in abundance, trucks everywhere, buses picking up and dropping off their passengers, dogs wandering the streets, wash hanging on fences, thatched roofs on nice houses and on shacks by the roadside, venders on the road selling oranges, bananas, sweets, juices or whatever they can market to the motorists passing by, smoke billowing up from fires of trash and leaves and more topes give evidence that we are in a foreign country and a poor one at that. Road conditions are both poor and excellent today, with patches of potholes and then long stretches of new two-lane toll roads. As I reflect on the day, all the bad disappears as the almost full moon shines on the park and casts it mellow glow down on earth. Life is good and as I sit with my wine, I say to myself "it does not get much better than this."

(Bert) Chalked up with the travel plans on the white board, Shari's quote for the day is apropos. "There is great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem and the concerned person solves a problem." (Harold Stephens). On the outskirts of Catemaco our caravan is just making the turn onto the main highway when over the CB radio we hear Helen announce that she and Bob need to pull over because of a brake problem. Our tailgunners meet them at the mechanics shop while the caravan continues to a pullout twelve miles from town. A half hour wait - filled by watching a Yellow-throated Euphonia, White-eyed Vireo and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird - is not long enough for the brake-problemed people to catch up to us. So, following caravan protocol, we continue on without them. We know they are in a safe place and the tailgunners accompany them. The way south through the mountains is tedious, traveling through numerous tope-encumbered little villages and a patch quilt of hole-infested asphalt. Along the shoulder of the roads near some of the towns, farmers have planted rows of corn, taking advantage of the extra margin of tillable land. By lunchtime, and only 70 miles into our journey, I call a 45-minute break, thinking we needed a bit more rest and hoping that Helen, Bob, Marlene and Larry will find us here. But they do not. Near the Veracruz-Tabasco state line the highway improves dramatically, much of it toll road or cuota road as it is known in Mexico. We drive across a flat marshy area of cornfields, wetlands, scattered palms and dense patches of large-leaved plants resembling tobacco. In the wetter areas, Snowy Egrets resemble Cattle Egrets in population, hundreds of white-feathered waders in a sea of green. Gliding over the marsh, Snail Kites are common. Beyond the marshes, on drier land tall rounded trees are covered with red-orange flowers. From a distance they appear to be African Tulip Trees, also called Flame of the Forest or Fountain Tree. Hundreds of these trees, each with a thousand flowers, make a colorful picture. On the outskirts of Villahermosa we tighten up the caravan to maneuver through the streets to our camping spot at the fairgrounds. Except for the giant 100-year-old Ceiba (Kapok or Silk Cotton) trees that surround the park, the fairgrounds resemble those for state fairs in the U.S. I unhitch the Pathfinder and we drive through town to reconnoiter tomorrow's exit and to pick up beer and wine - great selections from Chile and Spain - at the Wal-Mart Superstore. Upon our return we are delighted to see our wayward foursome parked beside the rest of the caravan. Bob entertains us with stories of the Mexican mechanics running alongside his RV and listening for the source of the noise near his brakes. Ultimately, according to Larry, the problem turned out to be something else. I ask him for details that he readily provides, but Marlene sees my eyes glaze over with incomprehension as he describes replacing a carrier bearing on the drive shaft. I'm just glad that Larry fits Harold Stephens category of a "concerned person solves a problem."

Day 18 - Wednesday, January 30 - Campeche, Campeche (Milepost 1271; today 246)

(Bert) Like thirteen elephants, linked tails to trunks, oozing through a tub of molasses, our caravan courses the snarled 7:30 traffic of Villahermosa. Still in the gooey mess of traffic, Nelda announces they have a flat tire on their fifth wheel. With no better alternative, Nelda and Gilford remain in the right lane of a multilane boulevard and Larry and Marlene pull up behind them to give assistance. Meanwhile the rest of us continue to thread our way out of the city. It takes us two hours to cover 30 miles, but we finally reach the open marshlands north of the city. Here the road is being widened and we can see how it built by layers of sand, dirt and asphalt, piled four to six feet above the marsh. We stop at a widening in the road - the same spot as last year - but now completely changed by the road construction and a manufacturing plant. A few of the jacanas still probe the marshes, but it is no longer the tranquil place it was last year. Nor are the roads. Almost until we reach the bridge to Isla Aguada, the roads have much deteriorated in the past year and we do not average as high as 30 mph in morning driving. Yet the slower pace allows me to absorb the pretty countryside we pass through. Rainfall must have been plentiful because in addition to the bloated lagoons and rivers, water covers much of the flat coastal marshes, creeping to the edges of houses and surrounding palm trees. White-flowered lily pads float on open water. Hundreds of herons, egrets and ibises (mostly White, but a few Glossy) search for food, while Snail Kites glide above them and Ringed Kingfishers perch alertly. In drier areas, rows of pink-blossomed Cassia trees line the road for miles and adorn yards and villages. Above us, powder blue skies are salted with feathery clouds. Afternoon travel is much smoother and faster as we drive north along the west coast of the Yucatán peninsula. Myriad Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns but almost no people populate miles and miles of undeveloped flat coastline. We finish the last leg of our long day threading through verdant hills surrounding the Campeche Cuota road and then briefly head westerly to a campground on the Gulf that is luxurious by Mexico standards.

(Shari) A heated discussion between Bert and me ensues. He says we should take the libre road, I say the cuota. I have the map and the incomplete log directing us to the campground tonight. (This campground is a new one for us, hearing about it from friends of ours). Bert has his instinct. Neither one of us is 99% sure of our position. Being the good husband that he is, Bert takes the cuota road. Soon my little GPS arrow is turning in the wrong direction and I am getting sick to my stomach. Later we pass the KM marker that denotes where the campground should be. With no way off the cuota road at this point, we continue. At an exit for Lerma, I say we should take it since the campground is just north of Lerma. Bert agrees. Pulling to the side of the road until the whole caravan can catch up, we explain the situation. Turning west toward Lerma and then south, I figure the campground should only be a short distance, so we decide not to park at the Pemex and go on ahead. We pass the KM marker again but now we are on a winding narrow hilly road, looking for a place to turn 13 huge rigs around. I see a small wide area ahead, and Bert starts to turn into it. Guess what? It is our campground! We made the right choices all along. Ha! Thank you Lord for looking out for us. It has been a tedious long day's drive, with roads worse than we remember, forcing an average speed of 30 mph. Coupled with that, Nelda and Gilford have a flat tire, Marlene and Larry are leaking antifreeze again and a bee stings Marlene. After well-deserved margaritas for everyone, Bert and I go for a swim in the beautiful pool overlooking the ocean and illuminated only by brilliant starlight and return to R-TENT for a late spaghetti supper. Tomorrow is a day of R&R with nothing on the schedule.

Day 19 - Thursday, January 31 - Campeche, Campeche (Milepost 1271)

(Shari) A glorious day of nothing on the schedule and we spend it, as does everyone else, taking care of errands. Even those of us on a vacation have to do the wash, clean, vacuum, wash vehicles, etc. However we have the advantage of a neat location with neat facilities. In late afternoon, I meet a group enjoying the Olympic size pool by the sea. Bob has his fly rod out and even catches a few fish off the shore. Monika, Jack, Lee and Bert are brave enough to jump off the high dive into the cool water. Steve watches in the shade of the palapa as Cecile does a lap or two. Later we join Don and Jean, who drive us to downtown Campeche. We have a tasty dinner before viewing the Town Square and promenade along the sea. Unlike other cities we have seen thus far, Campeche has obvious wealth. Many mansions border the sea as we drive into town and the clean streets are lined with neat closely spaced buildings reminiscent of New Orleans. This place is one I would like to revisit, spending a few extra days to browse.

(Bert) After many days of dry camping (RV lingo for the absence of electricity, water, dump, etc.) today is a refreshing and well-appreciated change. With 30-amp power we can run our air conditioner, washing machine, computer printers, microwave and everything else that makes life easy. I catch up on data entry of our bird sightings. As of today we are at 214 species, plus 4 additional subspecies. With each day s travel we reach new habitat and enter the range of new species. Tropical Mockingbird now replaces the familiar Northern Mockingbird, present at the start of our trip. We begin seeing Mangrove Swallows and Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallows. But mostly, at this pleasant campground, we take advantage of the facilities, swimming in the large pool, watching the Gulf, washing our rigs, getting e-mail and reading books. In the early evening Don drives Jean, Shari and me into Campeche and we dine at an open-air restaurant facing the palm tree lined boulevard along the seafront. Later in the cool of the night we stroll around the city square, shops still open, lights highlighting the tall cathedral, people mingling with friends, streets polished bricks.

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